The Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights met yesterday at Leinster House to hear submissions from the former member of the Mountjoy Visiting Committee, Mr Paul Mckay. Also present, and to a large extent, rebutting what Mckay said, were current Chair of the Visiting Committee Mr Stephen Langton, and Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Mr Brian Purcell.
In an op-ed in The Irish Times in April, Mckay highlighted his concerns surrounding the conditions in Mountjoy Prison, shortly before his term of service on the Visiting Committee was due to expire. At his appearance before the Justice Committee yesterday, Mr Mckay claimed that he was not at all surprised that his membership was not renewed, as it is with many other members, claiming he had ‘stepped on too many toes’.
Mr Mckay likened the State’s current indifference to the conditions in Mountjoy to the historical case of children detained in Ireland’s industrial schools and religious-run institutions, claiming that once again, those kept in the care of the State were being neglected. While acknowledging that it was difficult to garner sympathy for prisoners, he quoted the mission statement of the IPS, “to provide safe, secure and humane custody for people who are sent to prison”, and argued that the Prison Service were clearly falling far short of satisfying their aim.
As reported in the articles below, there was tangible tension between Mr Mckay and both Langton and Purcell, as they sought to refute his allegations. Mckay was especially critical of the Prison Service, describing them as ‘rigid’ and ‘centralised’, and accusing them of discouraging all initiative and ‘micromanaging’ Mountjoy Prison.
Mr Langton was in turn critical of Mckay’s breach with Visiting Committee protocol, arguing that it was irresponsible of Mckay to speak to the media about his concerns, claiming that current members of the Committee were alarmed at the stream of media reports on the issue. Mckay argued that when met with indifference and little or no response from the Minister and the Prison Service, he had effectively nowhere else to turn, as he believed report after report sent to the Minister vanished into ‘black hole’.
The next meeting of the Justice Committee will hear from Ms Kathleen McMahon, Mr John Lonergan, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and, the Committee having granted his request to attend, Mr Brian Purcell.